This week, Soledad O'Brien announced that her O'Brien Raymond Starfish Foundation would be teaming up with CoverGirl cosmetics to produce a series of documentaries as part of their "Girls Can" movement. For O'Brien, Girls Can is an way to help empower young women. For CoverGirl, it's the perfect way to convince young women that buying beauty products does not make them a bad person.
O'Brien will be producing a series of videos for CoverGirl about young women who have had to overcome challenges to get an education, which is the focus of the work her foundation does. CoverGirl (owned by Procter & Gamble) will also be donating money to fund the scholarships and mentoring programs that the foundation supports. For this particular "empowerment movement," the cosmetics company has tapped their bevy of celebrity spokeswomen, including Katy Perry, Pink and Ellen Degeneres, to talk about what girls can do. They also want to hear young women talk about the times they have been told they can't do something and how they proved they can actually do that thing...or something:
COVERGIRL is about discovering, encouraging whatever it is that makes a girl take up the challenge; break those barriers and turn "can't" into "can." COVERGIRL knows that with every barrier she breaks, the world gets a little more easy breezy for the next girl. And a little more beautiful for all of us.
CoverGirl is hardly the first American company to publicize their philanthropy work as strategy to boost revenue and strengthen their brand. Within the beauty sector, however, these attempts become particularly pointed. Though Gillette has donated to prostate cancer research, Axe isn't trying to teach boys how to be better versions of themselves. (Though Axe has recently been trying to raise money to promote the spread of peace on earth...or something.) Men don't need as much of these sorts of things (or their products don't need as much help not appearing so evil). Since the 1990s – a decade which brought an increased focus on the power of advertising for good and bad – women's beauty brands have made sure that they're known for attempting to "empower" women and girls. This empowerment comes in a few different forms: supporting women with cancer or women in business or women who have this elusive "low self-esteem" we're always hearing about. Here are some of their efforts.
Estée Lauder executive Evelyn Lauder was a huge part of the breast cancer movement, and by proxy, her company became inextricably linked with the spread of pink too. In fact, Lauder helped co-create the pink ribbon symbol now splashed across yogurt cups and bath products around America. She also founded The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, through which she (and the company) have donated an extensive amount of money to breast cancer research. In 1993, Estée Lauder released a lipstick and blush called Pink Ribbon and in 1995, their sub-brand Clinique came out with Berry Kiss. The proceeds of both went to BCRF. Since then, the company has continued selling limited edition products to raise money for breast cancer produced by their many brands, including Bobbi Brown and Aveda, as part of their Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign.
Revlon has also pledged themselves to the breast cancer cause. There is a center at UCLA named after the company and they host an annual Revlon Run/Walk that raises money for breast and ovarian cancer. One of Revlon's partners is Look Good Feel Better, "an inspiring program helping cancer patients cope with the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment."
Not to be excluded, Avon is also on the breast cancer train, via their Avon Breast Cancer Crusade hosted by the Avon Foundation for Women (headed up by honorary co-chair Reese Witherspoon). Each year, they host an Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in New York City. According to Avon, these efforts cumulatively make them "the leading corporate supporter of the cause globally." They've also worked to raise money for domestic violence via their Speak Out Against Domestic Violence initiative, which includes a Avon Domestic Violence Survivor Empowerment Program.
In addition to empowering women who have breast cancer or have been victims of domestic violence, Avon is all about regular old-fashioned financial empowerment:
The legacy of Avon Founder David H. McConnell, and the core priority of the company today, is the empowerment of women. This mission is as relevant in the 21st century as it was in 1886 when the company was founded. Around the world, the Avon earnings opportunity is still a path to financial independence, self-reliance and the realization of dreams for women.
They cite their original "Avon Ladies" as the reason the company "is one of the world's largest engines of economic opportunity for women, with Sales Representative earnings totalling about $4 billion annually."
Pantene's ongoing Beautiful Lengths program with the American Cancer Society helps women donate hair to other women who have lost theirs because of (you guessed it) cancer. More recently, Pantene got a lot of attention for airing a commercial in the Philippines that purported to draw attention to a gender bias in the workforce as part of their Be Strong and Shine/Whip It campaign.
Pantene, a brand that stands for empowering women to shine boldly, highlighted the issue of double standards and the culture of inequality that people have come to accept as the norm. Although initially approached from a local standpoint, the campaign resonated to the global market, recognizing an idea that was inspired by a hard-hitting reality that every woman faces.
Thus, #WhipIt was created. Urging women to leave labels behind, and be strong and shine.
Ever since in their rebrand in 2004 and the launch of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and The Dove Self-Esteem Project, Dove (owned by Unilever) has become the beauty company best known for their empowerment message:
At Dove we believe that women and girls of all ages should see beauty as a source of confidence, not anxiety. And when women and girls choose not to participate fully in life, society as a whole misses out. So we're on a mission to help the next generation of women develop a positive relationship with the way they look - helping them raise their self-esteem and realize their full potential.
Dove has donated proceeds from their products to partnered organizations like the Girl Scouts and Girls Inc. Their Real Beauty campaign has had several attention-grabbing iterations; the most recent is called #beautyis. Even their YouTube channel is about empowerment: "Dove® on YouTube is about promoting positive self-esteem and helping women feel good about their unique inner and outer beauty. We encourage our YouTube visitors to respect other community members," they write.
In a clear rebrand, Simple Skincare recently launched a new website and brought on Allison Williams as spokeswoman. These changes were made around the time Simple announced that they'd be sponsoring Makers, the women's history documentary series turned ongoing video web project turned corporate conference series. Simple said they'd be granting $10,000 to women deemed Next Makers, women who had been nominated by their communities because they "have made a remarkable impact on a local level, are viewed as role models and inspire people around them to take action." Simple, which is owned by Unilever, said in a statement:
Simple® is a new kind of facial skincare committed to educating women that great skincare is inherently connected to overall healthy lifestyle – nurturing the physical and the emotional. This partnership celebrates the women whose physical, intellectual and emotional strength have opened doors, opened minds and inspired change.
In 2011, along with spokeswoman Jennifer Lopez, Venus (owned by Procter & Gamble) launched the The Venus Goddess Fund for Education which demonstrated "the brand's commitment to empower women through education." By partnering with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Venus said they'd donate $40,000 in scholarships to students in the Houston area. That fund appears to have been a one-time thing.
Last summer, the Gillette Venus Step Up & Step Out Tour launched as "a multi-city event to help women look great, feel confident and give back to a good cause." Money from the events went to the Step Up Women's Network, a group that:
...creates and implements after-school and weekend programs that empower teen girls from under-resourced communities to be confident, college-bound and career-ready; propels professional women through connections, collaborations and continuous development; and inspires its network to invest in the future success of girls through mentorship and financial support.
Re: the Step Up Women's Network, Venus said this was an organization whose ideals were perfectly aligned with their own:
Just as Venus is dedicated to empowering women to reveal their most confident and beautiful selves inside and out, Step Up Women's Network is an organization dedicated to encouraging women and girls to reach their full potential.
L'Oreal is a huge brand that owns The Body Shop, as well as lines like L'Oreal Paris, Maybelline and Garnier. While L'Oreal itself is devoted to the overarching themes of "sustainability," "diversity" and "sharing beauty with all," their smaller lines have more niche pet projects.
In 2006, L'Oreal Paris launched Women of Worth, a "program to celebrate everyday women who follow their true passion to make a difference in the world." Each year, the company gives $10,000 to ten women to support whatever work these women do, including an additional $25,000 to the ultimate Women of Worth National Honoree.
Perhaps one of the first major beauty companies to specifically discuss female empowerment in their advertising, The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick got an incredible amount of flack when her company was purchased in 2006 by L'Oreal because of her stance on animal testing. Since then, her brand has continued to tout their focus on sustainability – and self esteem. In 1997, The Body Shop centered their advertising campaign around a "generously proportioned doll" named Ruby with the phrase "There are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only 8 who do." Today, one of The Body Shop's core values is "Activate Self Esteem," which they apparently work on with their employees through their Learning is of Value to Everyone (LOVE) initiative:
We believe that true beauty comes from confidence, vitality and inner wellbeing. We strive to use imagery which doesn't play on women's insecurities, and to bring you products that enhance your natural beauty and express your unique personality.
The Body Shop also donates money to domestic violence and sex trafficking organizations. As companies that make products for women do.